Pursuit of Happiness

Well-versed

Prime Database’s founder Prithvi Haldea’s love for Urdu poems and ghazals

Vishal Koul

Poetry comes easily to Prithvi Haldea. In fact, he grew up with it. The 63-year-old chairman of Prime Database remembers his father, an erstwhile jagirdar in Jaipur, sharing his love for poetry with his toddler sons. “He used to recite couplets about hope, perseverance and how to be confident and face the world.” The magic of those words wasn’t lost on Haldea when he set out to build the first database on India’s primary markets at a time when no one seemed interested in the idea. Twenty-four years later, having handed over the day-to-day running of his business to son Pranav, Haldea has made his love for Urdu poetry — shayari and ghazals — his chief occupation. Ibaadat, the non-profit trust he set up with businessman Naveen Anand, former Doordarshan news presenter Sangeeta Bedi and four others in October 11, works to revive the classics of Urdu poetry by showcasing some of the legends of Hindi cinema. 

Ibaadat’s office is located on the ground floor in Haldea’s apartment building. As chairman of the trust, Haldea says he conducts much of the research that goes into the process. “That’s the time I enjoy the most,” he says. That often means many months of sifting through thousands of songs, identifying ones that best represent the poet’s versatility, and bringing them to life through a scripted event. 

Digging out information and finding authentic sources is as frustrating as it’s elusive, thanks to dwindling interest in such poetry over the years, Haldea admits. But it’s the kind of work that he is no stranger to. “I maintain a daily list of every person I’ve met in my life,” he says. As a database evangelist for the extended family, he is often called upon during marriages to provide names of prospective invitees. “I fulfil this request every year for a relative. My wife’s friends, my son’s friends, his Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad batchmates, school friends etc. — each name has been categorised and referenced. And all this is updated daily,” he says.

No wonder that when in February 2008, he heard about Mubarak Begum, a leading Hindi film singer in the ’50s and ’60s who was living in penury in a 6x8 ft room in Mumbai’s Jogeshwari area, Haldea was able to trace her and convince her to sing again — but for a select audience of her fans. Proceeds from the event, held in Delhi, were presented to her. It was the trigger for launching Ibaadat. So far, nine such shows have been held in less than two years, featuring the works of Majrooh Sultanpuri, Naushad and Shailendra. Neeraj from Aligarh was the only living poet to be featured so far. 

Haldea, like other trustees, puts in his own money for the events, as memberships, sponsorships and ticket sales are not allowed. “Money is not a constraint in doing what we want to do,” he says. The events are by invitation. Haldea is now looking out for a person to delegate the administration and logistics of the events. “I’ll continue to enjoy identifying the poets, researching their works, shortlisting important and interesting incidents of their lives set around their lyrics and weaving it all into a story. This I don’t want to delegate, because it’s something I enjoy.”

He also wants to turn his attention to identifying current poets and give them a platform. Many of them continue to live in obscurity, doing day jobs for a living. “They get paid a pittance at mushairas,” he says. Haldea also plans to start a shayari competition in colleges. “The larger motive is to take Urdu poetry to the youth and make it enjoyable for them,” he says.